Stephens faces Keys in US Open fi­nal

Both strug­gled with se­ri­ous in­juries three months ago

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS -

Amer­i­cans Sloane Stephens and Madi­son Keys, both strug­gling with se­ri­ous in­juries just three months ago, ad­vanced to their first Grand Slam fi­nal at the US Open on Thurs­day.

Stephens, who missed 11 months with a left foot in­jury be­fore re­turn­ing in July, out­lasted seven-time Slam cham­pion Venus Wil­liams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5.

“I’m su­per happy to be in a Grand Slam fi­nal,” Stephens said. “To do it here, my home Slam, is ob­vi­ously more spe­cial. I think this is what ev­ery player dreams about.”

US 15th seed Keys, who had left wrist surgery for the sec­ond time in 10 months af­ter a first-round French Open exit, routed US 20th seed CoCo Van­deweghe 6-1, 6-2 in 66 min­utes to com­plete the first all-Amer­i­can US Open fi­nal since Ser­ena Wil­liams beat sis­ter Venus in 2002.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” Keys said. “I knew I had to rise to the oc­ca­sion. I’m just happy to be in the fi­nal.”

The friends and Fed Cup team­mates will meet Satur­day at Arthur Ashe Sta­dium in the big­gest match of ei­ther’s ca­reer for a top prize of $3.7 mil­lion.

“I’ve known her for a long time. She’s one of my clos­est friends on tour,” Stephens said. “I love her to death. And it’s not easy play­ing a friend.”

Stephens, who was wear­ing a walk­ing boot in June and ranked 957th in July, has won 14 of her past 16 matches, with semi­fi­nal runs at Toronto and Cincin­nati.

“I have no words to de­scribe what I’m feel­ing, what it took to get here, the jour­ney I’ve been on,” Stephens said. “I don’t know how I got here. Your guess is as good as mine. Just hard work.”

Stephens beat Keys in the sec­ond round at Mi­ami in 2015 in their only ca­reer meet­ing.

“Sloane is a new per­son now,” Keys said. “She’s ex­cited to be out on the court again.”

Stephens needed a thrilling break at love in the penul­ti­mate game and clos­ing hold of serve to deny two-time cham­pion Wil­liams her first US Open fi­nal in 15 years.

“I just worked my tail off and tried to run ev­ery ball down and here we are,” Stephens said. “It re­quired a lot of fight and a lot of grit.”

Now 83rd, Stephens is the low­est-ranked Slam fi­nal­ist since un­ranked Jus­tine Henin at the 2010 Aus­tralian Open and the low­est at the US Open since un­ranked Kim Cli­jsters won the 2009 ti­tle.

Stephens, who beat Wil­liams in the first round of the 2015 French Open in their only prior meet­ing, will jump into the world top 25 next week with the vic­tory.

US ninth seed Wil­liams could not over­come 51 un­forced er­rors that doomed her bid to be­come the old­est women’s singles fi­nal­ist in US Open his­tory at age 37.

But she will re­turn to the top five in Mon­day’s world rank­ings for the first time since 2011, the year she was di­ag­nosed with strength-sap­ping Sjo­gren’s Syn­drome.

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